National review to focus on building rural doctor numbers

THE Australian Government is set to review the distribution of medical school places with a focus on bringing more doctors to rural areas. 

Federal Assistant Minister for Rural Health David Gillespie said the review underscored the continued need for the government to address the shortage of doctors in regional, rural and remote areas. 

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Ewen McPhee welcomed the announcement, which hopes to push more graduates to train and ultimately practise in rural and regional area. 

"We strongly welcome this important review," Dr McPhee said.

"It is clear that we already have more than enough doctors graduating from our universities to meet Australia's overall doctor workforce needs now and into the future.

"But we still do not have enough young doctors choosing a career in rural and remote practice, whether that be as a general practitioner or another type of specialist.

"There is a pressing need to address this continuing maldistribution of doctors, and to shape both medical education policies and medical workforce policies to address this challenge at all stages of a doctor's career - starting from the day they apply for a place in medical school. " 

Dr McPhee said encouraging more rural residents to train in medicine could be a way to fill the gap.  

He added the election promise of a National Rural Generalist Framework could build on the success of Queensland's own Rural Generalist Pathway. 

"Research has shown repeatedly over many years that those who come from rural areas, or undertake medical studies or extended clinical placements in rural areas, are the most likely to return to rural or remote areas to work once they graduate from medical school," Dr McPhee said.

"This is because they get to see how wonderfully rewarding a career as a rural doctor can be.

"To this end, the more medical school places that can be located in regional, rural and remote locations, the better. This could include expanding the existing Rural Clinical Schools across Australia.

"(Following university) can be the point at which a young doctor gravitates to the city due to an often perceived lack of career opportunities in regional, rural and remote areas. We need to bust this myth.

"Queensland's Rural Generalist Pathway is a prime example of the fact that advanced medical training can be delivered very successfully in regional, rural and remote areas - and it can actually lead to the reinvigoration of medical services like obstetrics in towns that had previously lost these services."